Honesty in relationships should be a given, but it’s not so simple.
If you’re a publicly traded company there are strict laws that you must follow regarding full disclosure of relevant information. When you’re in a relationship the rules of full disclosure aren’t as clear. Am I saying that lying to a spouse or dating partner is ok? Is honesty really not always the best policy in relationships?
Well, it depends. What?!?!
Yup, you heard me correctly. Let me elaborate.
Good Lies and Bad Lies
There are different types of lies. There are what they call “white lies” or good lies, and bad, deceitful lies (black lies?). When you’re a guest at someone’s dinner table and your hostess asks if you liked the soup, it’s obvious to all that even if you didn’t, you lie and say you did. You might not want to be too enthusiastic about it though, because she might make you eat another serving.
The Sages of the Talmud actually discussed a similar scenario. The question was how to praise a bride. One sage said that you should say that she is beautiful even if she isn’t. Another sage demanded that you be totally honest and simply praise something else about her that you honestly believe. For example, you might praise the bride’s gown or her personality instead of her beauty to avoid lying. Obviously, by following the latter opinion you probably will make her feel bad, but you won’t be lying. The first sage’s opinion ended up winning the Talmudic debate. In other words, a “white” lie to make someone feel good is fine. There are actually a few more scenarios where the sages of the Talmud permit “white” lies. In all cases, the lie is to protect someone from embarrassment or loss.
Here’s a prime example of a “good” lie in action. Let’s say my spouse of girlfriend, while getting dressed for a night out with (or without) me asks me the dreaded question, “How do I look in this?” And let’s just say I don’t think she looks good in that particular outfit. Do I tell her the truth and risk making her feel bad, or do I lie and let her go out looking less than ideal.
If I tell her she doesn’t look good, I’ll be in the dog house, regardless of my good intentions. However, in my desire to make her feel good by lying, I might actually be harming her by letting her believe that she looks good when she really doesn’t, and exposing her to the nasty comments of the style police.
It’s a tough predicament to be in, but there is a way out. What I do in these treacherous situations is suggest something else that I think will look more flattering on her. I might say, “I think you look nice in this but I think that other outfit you wore last week looks much better on you.” By doing that, I’ve told her she looks nice and shown a sincere interest in her appearance, and I’ve given her some constructive advice that she will appreciate. I’ve triumphed where most men have failed.
Most guys couldn’t care less if you criticize their fashion tastes. They welcome your suggestions. But there are other things that they do care about.
Let’s say your boyfriend is working as hard as he can but isn’t making as much money as you think you’ll need to live the kind of lifestyle you desire. If you fully disclose your feelings you will only succeed in making him feel like a loser. His financial situation won’t improve, but I can assure you that your relationship will suffer. If you feel so strongly that you MUST disclose your feelings, speak to a close friend or a counselor.
The only time you should tell him how you truly feel is when you’re prepared to break up the relationship because of your financial worries. He has a right to know why you’re dumping him. In any case, if you tell him you don’t feel financially secure with him, you will ruin the relationship so, if you want it to continue, remaining silent is the right thing to do.
Being Honest About Your Past
How much do you need to disclose about yourself, and your past? It depends on how long you are dating for. If you’re on your first few dates, you really shouldn’t have to disclose anything too personal unless, of course, you want to. When you feel that things are becoming serious then you must disclose things that will have a direct effect on your partner if the relationship progresses.
For example, if you’re suffering from a serious medical condition that can severely affect your life or your ability to bear children, I believe that your partner has a right to know. But if you did things in your past that you are ashamed of and that you’ve totally given up, I don’t think that you need to tell your partner. You’ve done your penance and made amends. You’ve got a clean slate. You don’t need to tell your partner that you experimented with drugs in the past or that you once worked as an exotic dancer to pay your way through college, unless you’re planning to continue taking drugs or stripping. It’s none of your partner’s business because it has no effect on him today or in the future. What happened in the past, stays in the past.
Now what if your partner directly asks you if you ever did such and such? Can you lie and say you didn’t?
Based on what I just said, the answer should be yes. However, there’s another factor that comes into play. Why is this person asking you this specific question? If it’s because he heard a rumor or has suspicions, then I think you might want to bring it into the open and come clean. Not because you have an ethical obligation to disclose everything. I believe that you don’t. But you want to be with someone who appreciates you for who you are, not for who they want you to be. Everyone makes mistakes. You probably will make mistakes in the future. You both will. If your partner can’t accept you, regardless of what you did in the past, then he is probably not the person you want to spend your life with. Making mistakes is part of life. So is moving on.
Basic Honesty in Relationship Rules to Follow:
- White lies to avoid hurting someone are ok.
- Sensitive, constructive advice is even better.
- Full disclosure is only required when it affects the person you are disclosing to. If it doesn’t, then it’s your choice whether to disclose or not.